Women in the Workplace: Is Flirting a Helpful or Harmful Strategy?

As companies strive to promote diversity in the workplace, more women are working outside of the home and working their way up the corporate ladder.  In Ellen Pollock’s Wall Street Journal article, she discusses the shift in women’s strategy in the workplace from non-sexual to flirtatious.  In the same vein that men have used their charm to aid in their success, women are using flirtatious gestures (which range from a smile to bantering or teasing) to try to get ahead in the corporate world.  Flirting is considered just another tool in a woman’s toolbox for which a woman can draw upon to help her in the male-dominated business world.  It is important that women feel more comfortable at work, which can be exhibited through more relaxed bahviors and dress, but I think it is important to remember that sexuality/flirtatiousness is only ONE tool women have to use.  The most important tool for me is my knowledge, which comes from my experiences.  Women shouldn’t have to be nonsexual or asexual to get ahead at work, but women should strive to let employers know that a pretty face is not the only asset she has to contribute. 

In contrast, Del Jones’ USA Today article presents a very different picture of flirtatious women in the workforce.  In the study the article is based on, researchers found that women who are overly flirtatious at work (i.e. sending risque emails, massaging a male co-worker’s shoulders, drawing attention to one’s legs, etc.) receive fewer raises and/or promotions than women who said they never engaged in those types of activities at work.  The study was limited to 164 female MBA grads at Tulane University, so it may not be representative of the population as a whole, but it does evoke some interesting discussion.  Are women who are overly flirtatious at work not taken as seriously as those who don’t engage in this behavior causing them to be overlooked when pay raises and promotions are available?  Why do women feel this is a useful strategy in the first place (where did they learn it)?  I also think it is important to note that the behaviors described in this article sound less like simple flirtation and more like unprofessional sexual gestures that don’t belong in the workplace. 

Women should be allowed to express their femininity just as men have been allowed to express their masculinity at work; however, women should not lose sight of the fact that intelligence, experience, and growth are important tools to aid in one’s professional success as well.  However, there is an important distinction between flirtatious behavior and sexual behavior.  Sexual behavior, whether it is being done by a man or a woman, is distracting and inappropriate in a work environment, which is probably why the women in this study who admitted to using these behaviors to try to get ahead saw themselves being passed up for promotions and pay raises.

Soft skills, Getting Hired, and the Importance of Quality

Ronald Alsop’s two Wall Street Journal articles on MBA Skills and How to Get Hired illustrate the importance of soft skills in MBA Programs.  As someone with a background in a liberal arts field (women’s and gender studies), I find it reassuring to hear that the strong written communication and interpersonal skills I developed from my undergraduate degree are relevant in the MBA world.  While it is important to have the technical understanding of business to rise to the top of companies, being able to communicate with other employees and clients is essential to success as well.  Both of these articles highlight the demand for well-rounded employees, which means having the necessary technical AND soft skills in order to perform the job.  Many MBA Programs are realizing the feedback of companies and recruiters through new courses specifically designed to allow students to develop their soft skills in such areas as listening, public speaking, and the role of ethics in business.  My goal throughout my time within the MBA Program at UNR is to gain the technical knowledge I currently lack in order to become a more well-rounded professional, but also to continue to work on developing my soft skills.  One area I would really like to focus on is public speaking because too often I let my fear of embarrassment (failure) prevent me from giving presentations I know I’m capable of giving.

In addition, the additional reading on the 2004 Malcom Baldrige National Quality Award (MBNQA) winner, Kenneth W. Monfort College of Business (MCB) at the University of Northern Colorado, emphasizes the importance of quality in business programs.  Although in the 1980s, MCB had a sizeable number of students enrolled in its undergraduate and graduate programs, the college decided to make the decision to focus on the quality of its undergraduate program rather than trying to overstretch itself by offering a graduate program as well.  This chance proved to be successful for MCB as it has gained a reputation of being a quality program with high caliber students.  This article illustrates the significance of business programs that strive to make their programs great rather than large.  This attribute makes the program and the students who graduate from it more in demand.  I believe the MBA Program at UNR is held in the same regard throughout the Reno/Tahoe community, and that if we as students continue to demand and strive for quality, it will ensure the value of our MBA degrees remain high as well.

“Teaching Smart People How to Learn”

Chris Argyris’ article entitled, “Teaching Smart People How to Learn” provides an interesting point of view on how smart people often do not know how to learn because they have rarely (if ever) experienced failure, which is a necessary part of the learning process.  While reading this article, I began to think about my own experiences with failure and thus learning.  Like the consultants mentioned in the study, I am often afraid of failure in my professional and personal life.  It is hard to look inward and critique one’s self.  The much easier path is to blame other factors/make excuses rather than taking accountability for not meeting deadlines, etc. 

This made me think about my recent work experiences and how at times I have gone into defensive mode making excuses rather than just admitting that I didn’t meet the deadline or finish the task for reasons within myself (i.e. poor time management, lack of understanding the task).  Even though I know that we can learn valuable lessons from our mistakes, the fear of failure and the embarrassment that is attached to that failure has a tendency to make me defensive when challenged/confronted.  I have developed that “brittle” personality that Argyris mentions in this piece. 

Going forward throughout this semester and beyond, I would like to challenge myself to learn to accept failure and the growth that will come from this process in my professional and personal life.  I will do this by holding myself accountable for my actions rather than placing the blame for my problems outside of myself.  Although I know this change will not happen overnight, with determination I can eventually overcome my fear.